Kat Zhang’s Publication Story & Advice for Aspiring Writers + giveaway!

September 12, 2013 2013, giveaway, guest post, kat zhang, sci fi or futuristic, Wendy 78

I love finding debut authors who are able to combine an original story and strong voice. Last year’s What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang, the story of two souls inhabiting a single body, touched me with its thoughtful mood and lovely writing, and I’m so excited about seeing Addie and Eva’s story continue in its sequel.

You probably already know that the author recently graduated from college, and it’s mind-boggling to think that she juggled writing, querying, revisions, and schoolwork all at once. As part of the official Once We Were blog tour, Kat is joining us today with a guest post on her journey to publication, as well as her advice to aspiring writers. 

I want to know how she did it…don’t you?

~ Wendy

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My Journey to Publication

by Kat Zhang

I remember being seventeen, after finishing up my first book (not What’s Left of Me!), and not having any real idea about the industry. I can’t even remember how I got started learning—probably the internet! I do recall reading a ton of writing books, and getting the print version of the guide to literary agents or whatever it was called, and writing down names that represented YA.

Weirdly enough, back when I was querying my first novel, I only wanted to send them out by snail mail. I think there was something concrete and business-like about the business of typing, printing, and addressing a letter that appealed to me. After all, I’d been chasing this publication dream since I was twelve, but it had always been an nebulous thing. Putting stamps on envelopes…sending them off to NYC…it felt legitimate. I think I probably queried about ten or twelve agents, which felt like a lot at the time!

Unfortunately, none of those SASEs included came back with a positive answer ;) Fortunately, I had read enough advice online (I think my main resources back then were QueryShark and Miss Snark) to know I should bunker down and write another book while waiting for query replies. I started a book named Hybrid during this time to keep my mind off the query jitters. This, of course, later became What’s Left of Me.

By the time I finished the first draft, I was a freshman in college—and, more importantly, I stumbled across a blog called Let the Words Flow (now Pub(lishing) Crawl). Some of the ladies already had agents, one even had a book deal, and there I was freaking out about margin sizes and what to put in my query bio (I never did figure it out, and left it blank!).

Publishing can seem utterly overwhelming. There’s a wealth of information, to be sure, but some is outdated, and much is a matter of opinion. It was easy for me to get lost in the minutia (1-inch margins!) rather than try to figure out the whole beast of a thing. Having mentors helped beyond measure. They not only aided me in concrete things (how to write a query, how to format a ms), they made me believe that publication was possible. It wasn’t something that happened to “other people”—amorphous, slightly magical people who I’d never meet.

Last summer, three of the other ladies from Pub Crawl and I went on a two-and-a-half week tour with the goal of giving back a little to the bookish community. We’d all started out as young writers, and had been helped in our own publishing journeys by a number of mentors. We couldn’t hope to be a perfect book guru to every young writer we met, but we hoped to inspire and guide as much as we could.

It was a really fantastic time, and definitely something I’d like to do again. Over the course of the tour, I got a lot of questions and prompts for “advice for aspiring writers.” I thought I’d share some of the highlights :)

Advice for Aspiring Writers

1. Finish the book. If you’ve already accomplished this, hooray! But if you haven’t, don’t underestimate the difference this makes. It’s one thing to write a lot of nice scenes. Another thing entirely to craft a coherent story with a beginning, middle, and end.

2. Read in your genre. I do know of some authors who didn’t do this—one of my favorite writers, Lauren DeStefano, didn’t read YA before Wither…and I have to confess that while I was writing What’s Left of Me, I was too mired in high school reading to read for fun (sacrilege, I know), so I was really out of the YA-loop as well. But I’d lived YA books for all of middle school, so I suppose there was that :P

But seriously, in hindsight, I would tell myself to read more in the genre. Not only does it let you know if the “shiny, original” idea you have isn’t actually that shiny, it lets you know how other people have written stories similar to your own. I don’t believe that reading in a genre, knowing the “usual structure” (or, to be more blunt, “cliches/rules”) of a genre means you’re going to fall into the same. Know the rules so you can break them, right?

3. Set goals—but you-driven goals. That means, you don’t tell yourself “My goal is to get published in the next year.” Because honestly, that’s not something you can control. You might work really hard, and write a great book, but it doesn’t get in front of the right people, or does so at the wrong time. Rather, set goals that are under your own control: “I will finish my book this year” or “I will start querying in April.”

4. Know the industry…but try not to kill yourself stressing about it. I worked as an intern for a literary agent for about a year, and read a lot of both queries and manuscripts during that time. People give a lot of “rules” about queries, but honestly, as long as you’re sending a few paragraphs that make the reader want to read your story, you’ve accomplished the point of a query. There are guidelines, of course, to be more professional about it, and I recommend reading a lot of samples and then showing your query to people (both who have and haven’t read your story). But try not to freak out too much. (I know, easier said than done!)

I could go on, but I promised just the highlights!

It’s hard to believe I have a second book out. One of the most surreal moments of receiving Once We Were in the mail was seeing the “Also by Kat Zhang” page. How strange and wonderful to have not only a book out, but another one “also by” you :P

Thanks for letting me on the blog and helping me celebrate Once We Were’s release!

Once We Were (Hybrid Chronicles #2) will be out in stores and available online on September 17, 2013. Get the latest news and updates on Kat Zhang’s projects through her website and Twitter.

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Win Both Hybrid Chronicles books!

Thanks to Kat Zhang and Harper Teen, we have an autographed paperback of What’s Left of Me and an ARC of Once We Were to offer to our readers. All you have to do is leave a comment below and fill out the Rafflecopter form! Additional entries may be earned daily by tweeting, pinning, etc.

Open to U.S. and Canadian residents aged 18 and up, or 13 and up with parental permission. See the entry form for complete rules. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Follow the Once We Were Tour!

So what do you think of Kat’s journey to publication?  Have you read The Hybrid Chronicles, or are you planning to?
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78 Responses to “Kat Zhang’s Publication Story & Advice for Aspiring Writers + giveaway!”

  1. 013mayo

    OMG i really wanna read these books like BAD!!! they sound really good and everyone is telling me they are nice and I should read them :) <3

  2. 013mayo

    OMG i seriously wanna read these books like BAD!!! they sound really nice and everyone is telling me they are good and I should read them :) <3

  3. Chloe Lee

    I am sooo excited to read these books. I hate to judge a book by its cover, but I can’t help it. They are so beautiful! Seems like an interesting story as well!

  4. Kaitlyn W.

    Really blown away by this series! I already own both of the books, but I would love to win signed copies! Kat Zhang sounds like such an amazing author and person overall. Would really love to meet her someday!

  5. Kaitlyn W.

    I was so surprised when I read What’s Left of Me and found my self loving it. I did not expect to fall in love with the story and struggles of the characters as much as I did, and I can’t wait to see where their story goes next!

    I already own both of the books but signed copies! That is a dream come true. Would have loved to meet the author in person to get it signed, but beggers can’t be choosers. I would still love to meet her, though! She sounds like a really awesome person.

  6. Pong

    I’ve just recently started reading YA books and stumbled upon this site. I’ve always thought YA novels are “too young” and not mature but after reading Hunger Games and Clcokwork Angel, I was hooked! I would love to explore the world of YA books more and read the Hybrid Chronicles.

  7. Pong

    I’ve just recently started reading YA books and stumbled upon this site. I’ve always thought YA novels are “too young” and not mature but after reading Hunger Games and Clcokwork Angel, I was hooked! I would love to explore the world of YA books more and read the Hybrid Chronicles.

  8. Jas Dela Cruz

    My friend who’s a blogger fangirl over Kat and Kat had written such a wonderful book — overwhelming but in a good way. And it really caters to the genre and age group she intended to write because she (Kat) is in that age group. So the reader and the writer had that snap of a connection.

    Those were wonderful advice from Kat and I wish to those who’s planning to publish there book to be successful and take these advice based on experience! :D

  9. Ashley

    I haven’t read the first book, but I love the concept of it. It always awes me when I see such sucessfully writers right out of school. Totally inspiring!

  10. roseshadowink

    I haven’t read the first one but the series sounds so original and intriguing. I want to read it so I can learn about what a world with hybrids in it would be like.

  11. Rachel Edmundson

    I have been wanting to read this series since I first heard of it, but unfortunately my library for whatever reason doesn’t carry it and I just can’t afford to buy more than 1-2 books per year. So needless to say, this would be awesome.

    As for Kat, she is incredibly inspiring. It is unbelievable that she was able to write a book in college. I feel like I barely had time to read one!!

  12. Indigo Wayworth

    I haven’t read any of Kats books but I have heard amazing things about them! I love how she started out in high school and stuck with it until it really happened :)

  13. Jessica R

    Those points make a lot of sense, really. So she’s smart and helpful… would that be reason enough to want to read her books? No? Well, I’m extremely intrigued by the blurbs and I’ve heard some great things so far, so I really am looking forward to getting my hands on these ones! :)

  14. Mckenzie Templeton

    I’m an aspiring younger author myself, and I am so pleased to see an author giving her backstory on how she started out her publishing journey. Sounds like a very nice author and I would love to read her books! Thanks for the giveaway :)

  15. K_Butterfly

    Wonderful and inspiring blog post! It is definitely what I need to read at this moment. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m looking forward to reading this book and any others you will write in the future.

    Thanks to Midnight Garden for hosting.

  16. K_Butterfly

    Wonderful and inspiring post. Thank You for sharing and I look forward to reading the books, and of course others you will write in the future.

  17. Tim

    It’s so exciting to hear how someone juggling real life (college, etc.) still manages to put pen to paper and finish a book! I’m still working on my first and can totally relate to all the questions buzzing around about queries and margin! So it was really helpful to be reminded of rule #1: Finish my book!
    Also, I’m really intrigued by the idea of two souls in one body. I’m interested to see how she’s going to distinguish her plot and characters from other somewhat similar ideas!

  18. Steph

    I haven’t read any of her work yet, but I’m definitely eager to read this series. It sounds really fresh and original. Thanks for the awesome giveaway!!

  19. Tirta

    Reading a story like this one is always so inspiring, and wow she just graduated from college but already have two books out? Not to mention both books are pretty popular. So admirable.
    Love this post, Wendy! I’m kinda sad that the giveaway isn’t open to international, though :(

  20. Tirta

    I’m always so inspired by stories like this one, and wow she just graduated from college but already have two books out? So admirable.
    Love this post, Wendy! Though I hope there will be more giveaway opportunities open for international from The Midnight Garden in the future, hehe :p

  21. Tanja - Tanychy

    What a great post! I really like when some authors that became really popular in YA world share their experiences with new authors. It’s really nice of them. Great post :)

  22. Melanie

    WOAH Kat wrote her first book at the age of 17? O_O I’m really into writing myself and at school, we’ve been told to write a gothic novel so I’ve been going around reading gothic novels which really helps.

    Fantastic post! <33

  23. Jasprit

    Wow I didn’t even realise that Kat published her debut novel at such a young age. I find it pretty hard juggling everything I do today, reading, blogging, commenting, reviewing alongside work and everything else, so I admire Kat’s patience and strength in trying to get her book out into the world, but also giving something back in return. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post with us ladies!

    • Wendy Darling

      Exactly–I feel like I barely keep up with what I’m doing, so the thought of her doing schoolwork, writing, and doing all the work of querying and such makes my head spin. I admire what she’s done to inspire other young writers so much, too.

  24. Emmah

    I’ve read the little preview you can read in the “Browse Inside” part and the book seems super interesting! I’m really excited to read this book, when I get the chance to! (:

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh, excellent! I didn’t realize that was posted anywhere. I hope you enjoy the series as much as I do, Emmah, thanks for stopping by. :)

  25. Flo

    These books look great and are getting good reviews on Goodreads! I’d definitely like to read them.

  26. Flo

    These books look great and are getting good reviews on Goodreads! I’d definitely like to read them.

  27. Nakeisha Campbell

    What an amazing, educational post! The advice I’ve read here will definitely help me as a writer and I admire what Zhang has accomplished. Can’t wait to read her new book, and thanks for this opportunity!

  28. Tammy

    This book sound awesome. It sounds different but a good different.

    Thanks for the great giveaway!


  29. P.E. Mari

    Awesome advice. It’s absolutely insane that Kat wrote a book in high school. I’m a senior now and the thought of completing a book is mind blowing, especially with all the homework and responsibilities! I love the “you goals” advice because it’s something that has helped me a ton. I can be extremely competitive and so focusing on making myself better rather than being as good as the people around me has helped me a lot, especially the past few years.

    Anyway, great post!

    -P.E. @ The Sirenic Codex

  30. Youth Librarian

    I hope I am not commenting twice, I don’t know where the first one went.But I would love for Ms. Zhang to come visit the teens in my Writers group. They would love to meet someone who started writing young, like they have. Annie Curtis
    PS I loved What’s left of me and it has checked out here 13 times!!!

    • Wendy Darling

      No worries–our comments are moderated, so they don’t always show up right away. I’m glad to hear WLOM is popular at your branch!

  31. Wendy Darling

    Note to Meghan Jahinsky:

    My apologies, I accidentally hit “reject” when your comment came through, but rest assured your contest entry counts! Your comment as you wrote it is below:

    Awesome post! I loved the part about setting realistic goals that YOU can complete…I should work on that. :)

  32. Youth Librarian

    Please come visit my Teen Writers group in Gallatin TN next time you tour! It would be amazing for them to talk to someone who started writing as a teen like they have! I loved your book and yes ordered it for my YA Collection.It has already been checked out 13 times!

  33. Candace

    I have wanted to read her book for some time, I remember hearing great things about it! I always love hearing an authors experiences and advice. I wrote ALL the time as a teen and less since I’ve become a parent, but once my kids are both in school I may actually find some time to write again! This was very interesting stuff though! I think I’d feel like I needed to mail things in for it to really feel legitimate too. ;)

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh Candace, I think you’d enjoy this one. :)

      It’s amazing to see what Kat has accomplished, and so inspiring to other young writers, too. I love that she’s taken the time to write such an encouraging post about it.

  34. Keertana

    Oh, this is such a fantastic post! I’ve always wanted to publish a book, though my lack of ideas lead me not to take that idea very far, but publishing certainly is such an overwhelming experience. I love these tips, though, so thanks for sharing!(:

    • Wendy Darling

      Publishing definitely seems like a sometimes-scary place to navigate–I like how reassuring Kat’s post is, even as she reminds everyone that basic knowledge of the genre and industry ARE necessities. I’d agree with her on that.

  35. Donna Smith

    I loved What’s Left of Me. I thought the writing was lovely and the dialog was particularly well done. I rated it a 4 when I reviewed it back in October.

    That is some excellent writing advice! I envy anyone who has the skill and perseverance to write a novel.

    • Wendy Darling

      The first book was a surprise to me, too, Donna! I thought it was really well done. I’m looking forward to seeing what she does after this series has concluded as well.

  36. dreamsofawalrus

    Excellent post and WOW at writing a book while in college. Will need to read What’s Left of Me because it sounds right up my alley–I love the two people, one head idea (such as The Host did) and I’m sure there’s a lot more to it than just that.

    By the way, I had ti smile at the “finish a book” advice. My uncle once told me to plot out a book and just send the first chapters and plot out to publishers to see if they’re interested and… oh god, I can’t even imagine it. And what if they ARE interested? But he saw it as a waste of time to write the whole thing. Then again, he’s not a published author. ;)

    • Wendy Darling

      III know, the idea of writing a book in college is crazy. I admire her determination.

      And yes, this series is very different from The Host from what I understand. I’ve seen the movie (shhh), but have not read the book yet, but I think the similarities end with the basic/similar concept.

  37. starryeyedjen

    Ah, she’s so cute! I love seeing dreams like this come true for such young authors. I’m totally jealous, too, but also proud to see such hard work pay off. I really enjoyed the first book and I’ve only just started this sequel, but I already have a feeling I’m going to love it, too.

    • Wendy Darling

      I like that it’s happened to such a grounded and sweet person, too! We’ll have to compare notes when you’re done, Jen, I’m hoping to start it this week as well.

  38. Nikki Vanderhoof

    I can’t believe the 2nd one is coming out already! I know I’m probably the only one that feels that way but I still haven’t gotten to read the first one and it’s been on my list since July of 2012! GAH! I can’t wait to read these, they sound like such great stories :)

  39. Nicole Mainardi

    I have a review copy of both books, but I’d loved a signed one. Also, I loved the guest post. I’m an aspiring published author myself, so this was very encouraging! :)

    • Wendy Darling

      There seem to be a lot of aspiring authors among YA readers, so we thought it’d be a good choice of topics. ;) Plus it’s just interesting to read Kat’s story in general–her career path is amazing!

  40. Rebecca

    I love how you have given back to those who want to be where you are now and you are continuing to help aspiring writers with amazing tips. Well done! I really enjoyed your post.

    • Wendy Darling

      That was actually one of the things I really liked about Kat, Rebecca, and why I was glad to see she picked this topic to write about–that she’s already taken steps to give back. Mentors have always been really important to me, too, and I’ve liked mentoring others myself. It can make such a big difference in encouraging someone to take a chance on something they’re unsure about.

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh, it’s such a lovely book, Savannah! I just got my copy this week so I haven’t had a chance to read the sequel yet, but I’m very much looking forward to it. I hear you on the timing thing, though–time gets away from me, too.

  41. Amir Lacaba

    These are great tips for aspiring authors, thank you so much for sharing them, Ms. Zhang! I’m excited for Once We Were, I really liked the originality of What’s Left of Me…two souls, one body…I kept thinking that if I live in that world, will I be the stronger soul? I honestly don’t know.

    Thanks for the giveaway :)

  42. Mary @ BookSwarm

    I’m always so impressed (and completely jealous) of writers who found their way and did it brilliantly at such young ages. It’s absolutely applaudable and I wish Kat Zhang a long and prosperous career. Excellent post!

    • Wendy Darling

      I know, I cannot imagine doing that while in high school OR college–I barely had time to think about anything else but school! Well, and a few other things, hah. That kind of drive and discipline awes me–and I’m really happy for Kat’s success, too.

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